Two nights after taking a tough fall into a camera man against the Indiana Pacers (and still scoring 19 points with 10 assists and no turnovers), former Murray State Racer Ja Morant worked through some mild back spasms, then nearly led Memphis to another win on Wednesday night in the FedEx Forum.
He'd finish with 20 points on 44% shooting with 11 assists, five rebounds, four steals, one block and just two turnovers.
A last-second tip from Montrezl Harrell, however, pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to a 121-119 victory over the Grizzlies (5-12)...who've now lost five straight and are 6.5 games back of Houston in the Southwest.
With the Clippers' defense taking away his dribble-drive in the first half, Morant dished out eight assists to one turnover, and missed his only shot attempt (a 3-pointer).
Passes like this:
Morant notched all 20 of his points in the third and fourth quarters, including 14 in the final frame as he continues to be one of the NBA's top scorers in crunch time.
Fifteen games into his professional career, Morant seems to be taking advantage of both the speed and the pace of the NBA game.
He also seems content on continuing to drive and sell his body for his teammates – a trait that isn't going unnoticed.
“That's my game,” Morant said after the loss. “I'm not changing it at all. I still go in and finish plays. I'm going to continue to do it, (especially) if it puts pressure on the defense. Obviously if a big jumps, my big is in position for the offensive rebound.”
Morant found several defensive mismatches throughout the game, particularly when he was able to take Lou Williams 1-on-1.
But in the middle of the fourth quarter, the No. 2 draft pick found himself faced up against Patrick Beverley – one of the league's top defenders, regardless of position.
Instead of driving on him, Morant pulled up for a deep 3-pointer, and buried it for 98-92 lead with just under 10 minutes to go.
“I love it,” Morant said of the challenge. “He's a dog. I'm a dog.”
First-year Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins dove into it a little bit deeper following the loss.
“Pat Beverley is a heckuva defender. He poses so many problems on the ball. He gets into you and makes things tough. And not just in pick-and-roll, but in 1-on-1's and full-court pickups.
“But early in the first half, Ja had eight assists and didn't really score (0-for-1), and then ends up with 20 points in the second half. I thought he started to figure out how to navigate some of that pressure. I think our screens were better, and I think he started to identify some of the lanes and took advantage of those.
“But it's a credit to (Ja). Ja and I even talked about it. I said, 'They're trying to take you away tonight. But I want you to keep attacking it.' And (so) he's dropping off late passes for our bigs. Rolling. If he's missing a shot, our bigs are cleaning up the glass. We had more second-chance points than (LA). And I think we outrebounded them...had more second-chance points than them. It's kind of that stuff we've been talking about him being aggressive, even against physical defenses. Continue to work on how he can get the ball out earlier to some of his bigs, or even his screeners. And then get him to flip a switch in the second half, knowing that that pressure is still there.”
L.A. CLIPPERS (121)
George 8-15 2-2 22, Harkless 2-4 0-0 5, Zubac 5-6 0-0 10, Beverley 2-8 0-0 6, McGruder 3-7 0-0 7, Harrell 10-17 4-6 24, Patterson 3-6 2-2 10, Green 3-7 0-0 7, Mann 2-3 2-2 6, Williams 6-18 9-13 24, Robinson 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 44-95 19-25 121.
Crowder 6-11 5-6 20, Jackson Jr. 5-17 4-6 17, Valanciunas 12-17 4-5 30, Morant 7-16 5-5 20, Brooks 2-8 0-0 4, Clarke 5-8 0-0 10, Hill 2-3 0-0 6, Jones 2-3 2-2 6, Guduric 1-3 2-2 4, Allen 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 43-92 22-26 119.
L.A. Clippers 35 29 28 29—121
Memphis 31 29 28 31—119
3-Point Goals: L.A. Clippers 14-41 (George 4-11, Williams 3-7, Patterson 2-5, Beverley 2-6, Harkless 1-2, McGruder 1-3, Green 1-4, Mann 0-1, Robinson 0-2), Memphis 11-28 (Crowder 3-6, Jackson Jr. 3-9, Hill 2-2, Valanciunas 2-3, Morant 1-2, Clarke 0-1, Allen 0-1, Guduric 0-2, Brooks 0-2). Fouled Out: Brooks. Rebounds: L.A. Clippers 43 (Harrell 10), Memphis 48 (Valanciunas 16). Assists: L.A. Clippers 30 (Williams 13), Memphis 26 (Morant 11). Total Fouls: L.A. Clippers 24, Memphis 22. Technicals: George. A: 16,721 (18,119).